Death came twice this week.
One after living many years; one after living only a few. One is carried in my children’s blood; one I’ve never met face to face. One taught me about what has been; one taught me about what could be.
A caterpillar constructs its own coffin, dissolves itself, then rises again.
I try to accept that what life shows me, I may only witness, not have.
But I have so many wants.
I wanted a great grandmother to always laugh and tell her stories.
I wanted a beloved friend to have more days with her miraculous creation.
I wanted no pain.
I may want, forever.
But that is my lament, and shows how grief makes me selfish, even as I cry for another.
Death is difficult to witness. We try to ease the struggle but cannot do the work; our people go without us for the final act, so that they may emerge into what we cannot fathom.
I have witnessed great beings, old and young. I am grateful.
Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.
You don’t remember your first moments of life, but I do. I used to think it was because of the pregnancy-labor-holy-cow-I-made-a-human progression that primed me for such technicolor memories, but now I’m not sure. Adoptive parents describe that first moment with the same kind of detail and intensity, so maybe it is simply that we parents all experience a similar kind of intense imprinting.
I can still feel your inky black hair under my hand, wet and sticky. I remember the extravagant softness and frailty of your skin under my fingers as I traced along the base of your skull and down to your neck. The rhythmic swell of your rib cage was what I imagined a butterfly must feel the first time it opens its wings, alive but not quite ready to take flight.
I believe there must have been some spark of recognition that passed between our bodies after connecting for the first time as two fully distinct beings.
And after that, a constant haze of us. Comforting, diapering, feeding, playing. So much holding. You gave me a singular sense of purpose that I’d never felt before. That’s how it has been, for you and all your siblings. Until now.
Now, you’re peeking out from beneath the veil of childhood. Let me have my moment of honesty here: I don’t know whether I’m more concerned for you or for me. Part of me wants to be a selfless mother who is emotional simply out of love. I’m privileged to watch you step out, scared that you’ll get hurt, and excited to see you take flight. Of course, I do feel all those things.
As much as I want to leave it there, here is the other reality: I’m scared for you to pull the veil back and see me. Until now I’ve been just your Mother—infallible source of comfort and understanding. Even when I wasn’t doing it right, I was doing it right, you see?
You keep using all your new maturity to confront me about some legitimately flawed choices and attitudes of mine, and holy parenting-win-that-feels-like-a-loss, is it hard to hear. I feel this completely irrational urge to engage in a tit for tat argument with you, whereby I list out all the ways I’ve been a generous and empathetic and progressive parent, and therefore am completely unworthy of your criticism. But. They tell me I’m not supposed to do that with my seven year old.
You’re leaving me, daughter. We might still be breaking bread together every day and laying down under the same roof, but you’re still leaving me. You’re carefully stepping away from me, and I know that every time you look back, you’ll see me less as Mother, but as mother, the flawed human being who also happened to raise you. I know you’re still young and I know we have a lot of time left, yet I am still left with the feeling of not enough air in the room. I want to breath you in all over again like that first time, go back to that constant haze of us.
Why am I writing this? Maybe so that when you are grown, you can have proof that yes, I knew what was happening. And yes, it was just as awful and miraculous as you could imagine. And yes, I’m screwing up and I know I’m screwing up, but I’m doing my best.
Most of all, I vow now to listen to you without agenda, without judgement, forever. Except when that is really hard for me, and then I ask for grace. I’ve known you for longer than you have memory, before your butterfly heart fluttered and took off on its own. I cannot forget the time before you flew away.
I’m going to call you Sparrow, cool? Cool. You have the cutest little face with such dark black eyes. And well, you sort of flew into our lives.
My mind was full of thoughts during my labor with you. In fact, my mind was full even up until the end, when I birthed you. Frankly, it complicated things. Probably not the last time I’m stuck in my own head when I should just be taking your lead.
Mostly, I was full of questions about who you were going to be. How could I simultaneously feel such a deep sense of knowing you, without ever having laid eyes on your face? Even at three weeks old I don’t know much about you. I don’t know if you’ll be reserved or boisterous, funny or serious. I don’t know what your struggles and triumphs will be.
What do I know? Well, you don’t like to sleep. You like milk. A lot. Sometimes, after a long crying jag, you let out the cutest, exasperated, defeated sigh. Like I’m just not getting the memo that you need to be bounced or fed at all times.
So clearly, I don’t know much.
Yet, I can’t help but feel like I do know you. I know you, like a tree knows when to put out new buds, birds know which way to fly, or a river knows which way to flow. I’m your mother and I know you, you know? This knowledge seems at once so simple, like a reflex, but also has a sense of eternity; even as your path twists and winds itself away from our joined beginning, I will always know some essential part of who you are.
Still. I am just your beginning, not your middle or end.
But goodness, what a beginning it is. During every moment of calm since you were born, I’ve been trying to soak you in, as if I could psychically reabsorb you just for a moment, and we would be one again. I know that every time I smell your soft, downy head that these moments are numbered.
You might wonder, if you are reading this as an adult, why I seem so bittersweet about our beginnings together, why I seem so keen on holding onto this feeling. It is because, this may be your beginning, but you are my middle. It feels as if my whole life has worked up to you and your brother and sisters. Your arrival has given me a sense of completeness that I haven’t been able to fully understand yet.
So. Welcome to the world, little Sparrow.